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Exploring the Bardini Gardens of Florence

The Bardini Gardens, on the steep Montecuccoli hillside overlooking the city of Florence, set within the Medieval city walls, dates back as early as the thirteenth century and are definitely worthy of exploring if you're visiting Florence. Originally agricultural land, due to the sheer angle of the hill that defied building works, the gardens grew from a relatively small hortus conculusus beside the original palazzo, with agricultural terracing on the steep hill. The very wealthy Mozzi family built the palazzo between 1260 and 1273 as a fortification for the Ponte alle Grazie and also bought the adjoining land. High ranking visitors such as Pope Gregory X in 1273 were entertained at the palazzo. Historical documents note that the palazzo at the time had modern conveniences such as, ‘a stove and a hot room for sweating’. In 1309, the wealth of the Mozzi family collapsed, like other Italian families they had loaned money to King Edward III who was fighting a war with France, King Edward was unable to pay the money back, and the property was bought by the municipality of Florence.


A Baroque staircase and terraces on a steep hillside
The steep hillside of the Bardini Gardens

The garden today covers about four hectares and has three distinct sections; the English woodland on the west, a rural, more agricultural side to the east and in the centre the Italian garden with its grand Baroque staircases. Evolving since the thirteenth century, the land and gardens have changed as fashions developed over the years. Changing hands several times until the seventeenth century when the Mozzi family had again reclaimed ownership of a part of the land, and Giovan Francesco Manadori owning the other half, building the Manadori villa, designed by architect Gherardo Silvani. The Mozzi family owned the central section and the orchard section, with Manadori owning the land close by the Villa Manadori and which later developed into the English Garden. It was during the seventeenth century that the Baroque staircases were built and were probably planted with vines, with the side walls housing fountains that may have been a part of the irrigation system for the garden.


Two statues on columns with far reaching views across Florence city in the background
Statues stand either side of the top of the Baroque staircase with fantastic views across Florence

During the eighteenth century, the part of the garden belonging to Manadori was sold to the Cambiagi family and the Mozzi side was owned by Giulio Mozzi, who was probably responsible for the mosaic decorations and the sandstone statues. In the early nineteenth century, the Mozzi family retained ownership of their section of the garden, but Luigi Le Blanc had bought the Manadori side, transforming the wooded area into an Anglo-Chinese Garden with the land registry, in 1832, referring to it as the ‘English Garden’. Guidebooks, at the time, draw great attention to the views from the villa and gardens and Le Blanc was responsible for the creation of a lake, waterfall, fountain and Kaffehaus.


An old, damaged, colourful geometric sun style mosaic
An original mosaic still retains colour and charm on a staircase

An old, damaged mosaic on a wall underneath a pergola with roses
The Rose Pergola and original mosaic at the Bardini Gardens

Lawns lead to a channel with statues and urns with a variety of shrubs and trees around
The dragon channel in the English Garden

In the early nineteenth century, Teresa Guadagni married Pietro Mozzi and modernised parts of the garden, creating the holm oak copse and in 1839 the two gardens were unified when Pietro Mozzi bought Le Blanc’s side. By the end of the nineteenth century, more Mozzi family hardships meant the garden was seized from the then owner, Adolfo Mozzi del Garbo, and records show it was a great state of disrepair at the time. It was then bought by the Princes von Carolath Beithen of Silesia who introduced Victorian elements to the garden. After their deaths, the garden and villas were sold, in 1913, to the antiquarian Stefano Bardini, from whom the gardens get their name. Bardini undertook work, including the creation of the carriageway up to the Manadori Villa, which unfortunately removed traces of the medieval gardens of terraced orchards. He also imported a loggia of sandstone from Pistoia which he used to link the two Kaffehaus on the Belvedere terrace. Bardini used the gardens to create an open-air exhibition of his collections. Bardini died in 1965, leaving the garden to the Swiss nation causing a long and protracted legal wrangle, which was finally resolved in 2000, when work commenced on the restoration of the garden. By then the gardens were an overgrown wood, with many features hidden under dirt and an accumulation of rampant growth. After much work, excavations and replanting the gardens opened again in 2005 and are now managed by the Fondazione Parchi Monumentali Bardini Peyron (Bardini and Peyron Foundation for Monumental Parks). The aim of the restoration was to restore features that could be saved and to preserve the earliest versions of the gardens as far as possible while mixing in Tuscan traditions and plantings. Perhaps the crowning glory of the gardens, particularly in spring, is the long wisteria pergola, in full glorious flower during my visit, with swathes of mauve and purples, an intoxicating fragrance in the air and unrivalled views over the entire city of Florence framed by hanging wisteria flowers.

Chairs on a terrace with a loggia behind and a rambling rose climbing over the loggia
The loggia built by Bardini to link the two Kaffehaus

Wisteria flowers profusely in a pergola
The wisteria pergola in the Bardini Gardens

The gardens today retain their division into three parts, the English Garden with its mature trees, wandering paths and the central lawn with the dragon channel, uncovered during excavations in 2000 and dominated over by the huge sculpture of Ceres and Bacchus. The agricultural and orchard side of the garden on the east, with Tuscan varieties of apple trees as well as plums and peaches below the wisteria pergola, and an olive grove, with rose garden above the pergola. The central section of terraces and Baroque staircase hold herbaceous borders of irises. The replanting of the garden has tried to encompass the history of the garden, with traditional fruit trees and an azalea collection to replace the ones that Bardini introduced in the 1960’s. Other collections today include roses, hydrangeas, viburnums, camellias, irises and peonies with a variety of flowering times to offer year-round interest in the gardens. Original sculptures, pots, urns, niches, mosaics, fountains and grottoes are found all over the gardens and add historical and artistic interest alongside botanical. Exploring the gardens fully takes a good couple of hours and inevitably involves some steep paths and steps but there are plenty of places to stop and admire the unrivalled views across the terracotta rooftops of Florence with the Duomo, Santa Maria del Fiore, taking centre stage.

A view through wisteria flowers to the city of Florence and the famous Duomo dome
The view of the Duomo and Florence city from the wisteria pergola in the Bardini Gardens

 The gardens are open all year round, with reduced hours during the winter. A ticket to the gardens also includes entry to the Boboli gardens, a short walk away. The Bardini gardens have a café and gift shop with parking near Forte Belvedere but are also walkable from the centre of Florence.

An ornate urn on a terrace beside a long pergola covered in wisteria
An ornate urn sits atop a column beside the wisteria pergola

An old statue on an ornate plinth with a brick wall behind and roses around it
An original statue in the Bardini Gardens

© Vicki Gardner All images and words available through GAP photo library or from Vicki



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